The written version was as follows:
A look into a succesful lobbying process in The Netherlands
Written by the board of the Netherlands Home Educators Association NVvTO
From February to April of 2011 there was a lot of turmoil in The Netherlands about home education. As in some other countries, the existence of home education in The Netherlands was at stake. The Minister of OCW, (Education, Culture and Science) unexpectedly announced to reconsider the law concerning home education on the grounds of conscientious objections, based on the parental life philosophy or religion. The trigger for this was the closure of an Islamic secondary school in Amsterdam, after which in February 70 families involved announced to choose Home Education. The increasing fear in The Netherlands for the “Islamification” suddenly got tied to the phenomena of home education. Fierce discussions in political and public arena followed.
Within this field of forces the Dutch Home Educators Association (NVvTO) lobbied actively to safeguard the interests of Dutch Home Educators. After a tense time, we take a moment to take a breath and look back on the lobby process in The Netherlands, the way it was handled, the ingredients, the players, the context, and the results achieved.
The situation in The Netherlands
Before addressing the lobby process, we draw a sketch of the situation in The Netherlands in a couple of keywords, in order to explain the chosen path.
The Compulsory Education Law (Leerplichtwet 1969) does not acknowledge home education in the law as a legal form of education as such. Exemption of school enrollment is only legal when unable to attend a school, or on the grounds of being unable to find a school nearby that endorses the family's life-philosophy or religion. In many cases the access to this exemption is blocked for children who previously attendended a school.
The NVvTO was founded in 2000.
Social context: more secularisation, increasing islamophobia, and growing denouncement of all sorts of non-public and alternative education.
The lobby process
Since its beginning, the NVvTO has set as a goal to improve the access to home education in The Netherlands and to make it known better. At this moment we have the focus points to include home education as an optional choice in the law, and a way of access to home education for children who have attended school previously. To achieve this, in 2010 the NVvTO prepared for a lobby process.
In preparation for the lobby process, several sessions took place with a professional lobbyist, who gave the following “recipe”: formulate a positive and durable message that connects to social developments, and analyse the field of forces (the players and their attitudes with regard to home education).
Before the board of the associocation could go public with this message, a radio broadcast about the choice for (groupwise) home education of 70 Islamic families in Amsterdam got the political and public opinions stirred. The PvdA wethouder (local government executive) for education of Amsterdam announced to be vehemently against this step. The parliamentary PvdA spokesperson supported him. This got a debate started about home education in The Netherlands
Suddenly, the improvement of the situation of home education was no longer the first priority for the NvvTO, but the maintaining of the current situation, that is the posibilty of home education with the exemption on the grounds of conscientious objections.
Time for action.
With the freshly formulated message that home education is a good form of education, the board of the assocation actively reached out to important lawmakers and administrators: the spokespersons of the political parties in the area of education, the policy workers within the ministry of Education who advise the minister, and the Advisory Board of Education (Onderwijsraad – an independant advice organ in the area of education).
The focus was the taking away of the excisting pejudices against home education, giving home educators a voice and face (by offering a petition, letters by NVvTO members to their own favorite polical party) and point to the process of self-regulation and self-selection that comes with the choice for home education. This is a very conscious one, preceded by a serious orientation. We very purposely chose not to bring the legal battles many families face when choosing home education into the public attention, not towards the media, in the lobby process and the poltical debate.
Beforehand the NvvTO stayed out of the media, not to wake up sleeping dogs, but by then the time had come to break the message to the media. To influence the public opinion, we made use of interviews on radio, regional and national news papers and social media, a.o. Twitter. Also individual members of the NVvTO took initiatives and were supported by the board.
In the deciding parliamentary debate, held on 31 March 2011, a majority turned out to be in favor of keeping the current exemption on the ground of orientational school objections. Especially all the Christian parties and all government fractions (together with the supporting party PVV) voted in favor of home education.
So, the option of home education with the exemption on grounds of orientational objections, was safe for the time being. The condition that several parties set was (the recurring request for) the implementation of a cheap way of inspection on home education, which is currently not regulated in the Netherlands.
The Minister promised to present a proposal about inspection at the end of December. Coincidence tells that in the coming December the Advisory Board of Education will present an advice as well, on how to interpret article 23 of the Constitution, that gives the freedom of orientation and setup of education.
Still, it's a long way to go, before the NVvTO has reached its goals.
Important ingredients in the lobby process
Three factors in particular: giving a positive message about home education, refraining from denouncing schools, and speaking from our own strength instead.
The scientific sources to point to are reports (written in Dutch) of national and international scientific research, a dissertation about home education. In addition, examples of of similar European countries where home education is quite legal, like Belgium, Norway, Denmark, and Finland. Policy makers showed a lot of interest for this, and this helped to separate facts from underbelly prejudices and rumours.
Stimulating individual home educators to raise their voice led to a better connection by political spokespersons with the subject: “Hey, these are people of flesh and blood, not unlike ourselves, who choose home education from their heart and also vote for my party.”
In influencing the political forces, the lobby of the NVvTO has borne fruit: we kept the possibilty of exemption of school registration, on the grounds of orienational objections.
Referring ro scientific research, pointing to better legal situations in compatible other countries, and giving a voice to people who home educate, played a descisive role.
In the process of coming to testing and to make home education an option in the law, the NVvTO will use the lobby instrument again.
A positive side effect of all the commotion is that more people got to know about home education and its possibilities.